Whether seasoned or gearing up for their first frosty adventure, snowmobile enthusiasts often ponder which snowmobile brand is best. This line of thinking can’t be helped, as the world of snowmobiles is a dynamic and competitive realm. Let’s highlight each manufacturer’s unique strengths and innovations while determining the elusive ‘best’ snowmobile brand.
BRP, Polaris, Arctic Cat, and Yamaha are some of the top snowmobile brands. Determining which one is the best comes down to personal preference. What may seem the most suitable for some riders would unlikely be the same for others.
Let’s journey through the histories and breakthroughs of the most prominent snowmobile brands. From Ski-Doo’s early dominance and Arctic Cat’s strategic moves to Taiga Motors’ all-electric lineup and Yamaha’s innovations, we’ll navigate the twists and turns of the snowmobile industry in this guide.
Shifting Tides for Snowmobile OEMs
If there’s a factor driving the success of snowmobile manufacturers, it’s the fact that “every sled maker has been No. 1 at least once” in the past few decades.
While some OEMs have enjoyed lengthier stays on the top podium, no single manufacturer has monopolized the snowmobile realm. This amusing state of affairs keeps everyone on their toes, which can only mean more ingenious product offerings for consumers.
But the problem lies when answering, “Which snowmobile brand is best?” Since there isn’t a sole maker reigning supreme, the answer to this question only becomes more and more subjective.
This is nothing new, as personal preferences will ultimately prevail. Therefore, this guide aims to highlight the strengths of each snowmobile brand — to help streamline your decision-making process, even by a bit.
Snowmobile Brand Breakthroughs
BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products Inc.)
While the humble beginnings of BRP trace back to as early as the 1937 B7 snow coaches, it wasn’t until 1951 that the prototype for modern-day snowmobiles took form.
These initial models featured detachable front skis, allowing substitution with wheels for paved surfaces. Their wooden bodies were upgraded to sheet steel a few years later, complemented by Chrysler flathead six-cylinder engines and 3-speed manual transmissions.
The more important rear track that powers today’s machines didn’t come to life until 1957 when founder J. Armand Bombardier developed a one-piece molded rubber continuous track that ensured effective snow traction. Joseph intended to name this revolutionary sledder “Ski-Dog.” But due to a typographical error, it bore the now iconic name “Ski-Doo” instead.
As for its subsidiaries, Lynx and Skandic did not enter the snowmobile scene until the ’80s and ’90s. And while they came much later than Ski-Doo, these snowmobile brands boast some fantastic features not present in their precursor’s lineup. These unique inventions include the tougher PPS (Pauli Piippola Suspension) and the Radien chassis introduced in 2018.
After its market debut, Arctic Cat was the first of BRP’s competitors to dethrone it. There’s less than a ten-year gap between the inception of the two name brands. However, it took two whole decades for Arctic Cat to break BRP’s No. 1 streak. The OEM’s inaugural Model 100 was introduced in 1960, but the Boss Cat line of the 1970s put its snowmobile offerings on the map.
Arctic Cat allegedly stole its pioneering slide-rail suspension from Polaris — but that’s a topic for another day.
If Arctic Cat is credited with being the first to dethrone BRP from its No. 1 spot, Polaris is credited for many of the industry’s firsts. These contributions include IFS (Independent Front Suspension), Cleanfire Injection technology, and a front-mounted engine.
The 1956 Polaris Sno Traveler was the first snowmobile to feature a front-mounted engine, the design of which provided superior weight distribution and handling. Meanwhile, the 1980 Centurion model incorporated IFS into the snowmobile’s engineering, allowing each ski to move independently and adapt to the terrain more flexibly.
Three years later, the Indy model introduced a long-travel rear suspension. In 2005, Polaris snowmobiles sported a direct-injection system that reduced emissions and improved engine performance.
These design elements laid the groundwork for Polaris’s continued success in the industry.
Yamaha (Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd.)
While the Japanese Big 4 pioneered ATCs and ATVs, dynamic shifts with snowmobiles put these manufacturers in a later entry position. Yamaha, in particular, didn’t begin snowmobile production until 1968 with its SL350.
Although noteworthy for introducing oil injection technology, it wasn’t initially well-received. During cornering and steep descents, the tracks slackened and adversely impacted smooth handling.
This skepticism likely drove Yamaha’s subsequent snowmobile designs to center heavily on reliability. As if to prove this point, later models pioneered several performance-enhancing features like slide-valve carburetors, 4-stroke engines, and the lightweight 1988 SnoScoot model targeting younger riders.
Quebec-based Taiga Motors is at the forefront of electric snowmobiles. Its 2018 Taiga TS2 advanced industry standards is one of the first electric snowmobile models.
However, the company didn’t officially launch its first production e-snowmobile until 2021 — after securing $100 million USD in funding. Of the top snowmobile brands, Taiga Motors is the only one with a fully electric snowmobile lineup.
Alpina (Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH & Co. KG)
If the North American OEMs pioneered industry firsts, this European brand did the same with specialized, niche-specific snowmobiles.
Particularly, the Alpina Sherpa series that began in the ’60s was built for alpine and mountainous terrains. These models featured high-clearance designs and powerful engines, catering to the needs of riders navigating challenging snow-covered landscapes.
The Other Big 3 (Discontinued)
Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Honda entered the snowmobile industry around the same time Yamaha did. Their inaugural models were the Suzuki L40, the Kawasaki Intruder, and the Honda S500. However, these OEMs gradually discontinued snowmobile production in the late ’70s and early ’80s, redirecting their focus to other product lines due to the market’s economic climate and competitive nature.
Top Picks per Segment
Following the preceding section, I meant to briefly discuss the all-time highest-grossing snowmobile. However, accurate information on sales figures is hard to come by online.
There are references publicly available, but they focus on snowmobile revenue by subsegment and not by manufacturer. We’re better off assessing the best snowmobile brand based on its overall efficiency.
To maintain fairness, we’ll break down these top picks per manufacturer and subsegment. While we’ll primarily feature the most popular models by brand, it’s important to recognize that their status stems from high-quality engineering, powerful engine performance, straightforward maintenance, and versatility.
|Indy EVO, Indy Sport, Indy VR1
|ZR 120, ZR 200, Blast ZR, ZR Thundercat
|MXZ Sport, Renegade Adrenaline 850 e-TEC, Can-Am Maverick X3 (converted)
|ZForce 500 (converted)
|Lynx Adventure 600, Lynx Xterrain Brutal, Skandic SWT
|SX Venom, Transporter Lite, Sidewinder L-TX GT/LE EPS
|9R RMK Khaos Slash 155, 850 Pro RMK Slash 155
|ZR 6000 R-XC, M 8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One
|Summit X 850 Turbo 175 with Expert Package
|Lynx BoonDocker DS
|Sherpa 1.6L TI-VCT 16V
|Mountain Max 154 Super Lite
|550 Voyageur Adventure 144, ProStar S4 Voyageur 146
|Backcountry X-RS 850 146, Tundra LT
|Sherpa 1.6L TI-VCT 16V, Superclass 1.2L VVT 12V
|VK Professional II
|650 Switchback Assault 146
|XF 8000 CrossTour
|Sidewinder X-TX LE
|Patriot Boost Indy VR1 137, 650 Indy XCR 129
|ZR 8000 RR 137, ZR 9000 Thundercat
|Lynx Rave RE 850
|Sidewinder SRX LE
|550 Indy LXT
|XF 6000 Cross Country Limited, Blast XR 4000 Touring
|Grand Touring Limited, Expedition LE/SE 900 ACE
|Lynx Adventure Grand Tourer
|Sherpa 1.6L TI-VCT 16V
|VK 540, Transporter Lite 2-Up
|Expedition Lynx e-TEC
|Lynx Rave e-TEC
|Nomad, Atlas, Ekko series
|Sherpa, Superclass series
What Makes a Top-Tier Snow Machine?
Now that we’ve explored the key contributions of each name brand and identified their flagship models, it’s time to address the question: “What makes a top-tier snowmobile?”
The below sought-after qualities should help guide your decision-making process — especially if you’re still saving for your dream snowmobile and just looking to get your hands on the next best alternative:
Born from rigorous quality control and testing, this translates into no-fluff maintenance, fewer breakdowns, and resilience in demanding situations. Riders can trust the snowmobile’s reliable performance on mountainous terrain, rough trails, and harsh weather.
A robust snowmobile inspires rider confidence, allowing for exploring new landscapes and pushing personal boundaries without concerns about unforeseen exigencies.
A flexible snowmobile is characterized by its ability to adapt to diverse terrains and riding conditions. This attribute often traces back to a well-engineered suspension system that helps maintain stability on different surfaces.
A powerful, responsive engine can also enhance this capability, allowing the sled to easily navigate challenging trails, steep inclines, and varying snow conditions.
Relative to this, a snowmobile’s level of performance goes hand in hand with its adaptability (and vice-versa).
However, flexibility goes beyond a robust and adjustable suspension system. More than agile handling, versatility can also be seen in the following facets of a snowmobile:
Variable Track Length
Snowmobiles with adjustable track lengths can easily transition between snow conditions, offering optimal traction in various scenarios.
Interchangeable or adjustable ski designs enable riders to customize the snow machine’s handling to suit different snow types and riding preferences.
Wide Power Band
A broad power band in the engine ensures consistent performance across various speeds and conditions, making the snowmobile versatile in diverse terrains.
Advanced electronic systems, such as electronic fuel injection and traction control, enhance adaptability by optimizing engine performance and managing traction in different situations.
Snowmobiles with adjustable rider ergonomics accommodate different riding styles, providing comfort for both aggressive and leisurely riding.
Tunnel Bag Mounts
Integrated mounts for tunnel bags or cargo accessories add versatility to a snowmobile, allowing riders to customize the sled for touring or backcountry purposes.
Snowmobiles with easy-to-attach accessory mounts facilitate the addition of equipment like tow hitches, snowboard racks, or cargo carriers, expanding the machine’s functionality.
Smart Display Systems
Advanced display systems provide real-time information about the snowmobile’s performance, conditions, and diagnostics, aiding riders in optimizing settings for diverse environments.
Snowmobiles featuring modular components or upgradeable parts provide versatility by allowing riders to enhance or modify the sled’s features to meet changing preferences or performance requirements.
Not all snowmobiles have all these, so it’s best to select one with the features you deem most important. Polaris, Ski-Doo, and Yamaha have been known to offer snowmobile models with modular designs and quick-attach accessory systems.
But if you’re after agile handling and tough suspension systems, performance, trail, and crossover machines should be part of your top picks.
Product offerings of the best snowmobile brands are characterized by seamless power and control and an ideal power-to-weight ratio — performance measurements reflecting the machine’s ability to navigate changing terrains and deliver an enjoyable riding experience.
The power-to-weight ratio, in particular, will naturally differ based on displacement (as seen below):
- 50cc: 1 hp/5 Kg or 0.2 hp/Kg
- 100cc: 1 hp/4 Kg or 0.25 hp/Kg
- 250cc: 1 hp/3 Kg or 0.33 hp/Kg
- 300cc: 1 hp/2.5 Kg or 0.4 hp/Kg
- 450cc: 1 hp/2 Kg or 0.5 hp/Kg
- 700cc: 1 hp/1.5 Kg or 0.67 hp/Kg
- 900cc: 1 hp/1.2 Kg or 0.83 hp/Kg
- 1,000cc (liter-class): 1 hp/Kg
This is why most trusted name brands invest a lot in R&D to continuously refine existing rider-centric features, engine designs, and performance figures.
A high-performing snowmobile typically showcases a well-designed power mill and robust suspension (among other things) — attributes that wouldn’t be possible if continuous improvement weren’t at the core of snowmobile engineering.
Somewhat overlapping with flexibility, cutting-edge design elements in snowmobiles often include advanced suspension and responsive controls that enhance comfort and stability.
Engine technologies like Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) and Electronic Power Steering (EPS) optimize power delivery and fuel efficiency, ensuring reliable performance. Traction control and ABS enhance stability and rider safety.
Conclusion — Top Snowmobile Brands
Determining the best snowmobile brand elicits varied responses from novices embarking on their initial purchase to aficionados selecting purpose-built machines. After all, choosing the best snowmobile brand hinges on individual preferences and priorities.
Nonetheless, an underlying question that should first be addressed is, “Are you seeking a well-rounded snowmobile or one that is niche-specific?”
BRP consistently asserts its dominance in the entry-level and trail sled categories, boasting around 50% of the global market share with its Ski-Doo, Lynx, and Skandic labels as of 2022.
Taiga Motors leads the pack with its instant-torque, TMS-equipped electric sleds, earning it “the Tesla of Snowmobiles” title.
Meanwhile, Yamaha is considered the most reliable (although potential changes loom in the future following the OEM’s announcement of ceasing snowmobile production by 2025).
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.